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Bridge disasters spotlight outdated infrastructure heading into 2024 election

Former President Donald Trump opposes the Biden administration’s push to fund thousands of bridge projects.
Four of five cars and a Pittsburgh Transit Authority bus lies in the rubble of the Fern Hollow Bridge
Posted at 3:16 PM, Jun 27, 2024

After years of deferred maintenance needs, the decaying Fern Hollow Bridge finally collapsed in Pittsburgh in January 2022.

Two years later, a cargo ship dead in the water took down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after smashing through a support column.

The National Transportation Safety Board is examining whether the bridge should have been retrofitted with modern protection systems able to withstand a ship crash.

The demise of both bridges, including one in battleground state Pennsylvania, will give voters vivid examples of the nation's outdated infrastructure.

The Biden and Trump campaigns are split on what role the federal government should play in helping to upgrade thousands of bridges due for repair or replacement.

President Biden was in Pittsburgh the day the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed and pledged to lead an effort to help cities and states pay for bridge projects everywhere.

Related Story: US bridges are frequently struck by ships and barges

“We’re going to fix them all. Not a joke,” President Biden said at the scene of the disaster. “This is going to be a gigantic change.”

He supported efforts to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that includes $300 billion for bridges all over the country.

It is the biggest injection of infrastructure funding in decades, with dollars set aside for 13,000 bridge projects so far, according to the White House.

That’s still just a fraction of the 45,000 bridges listed by the federal government as being due for replacement or major repair, including more than 14,000 bridges identified in a summer 2023 Scripps News investigation that have been ranked in poor condition for at least a decade.

Even in Pittsburgh, a year after the Fern Hollow collapse, Scripps News found bridges stuck in startling states of disrepair that had not received funding for upgrades.

President Biden has said this is just the start of an “infrastructure decade” focused on rehabbing bridges.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said the backlog of broken bridges will require years to address.

"What we have right now is the largest investment in roads and bridges since the Eisenhower administration,” Buttigieg said in an interview last year with Scripps News. “It’s a level of funding that is, frankly, testing how much the American economy can actually absorb.”

Related Story: 10 years since the deadly Flint water crisis and America's eroding bridges | Scripps News Investigates

In contrast with President Biden, former President Donald Trump no longer calls for massive infrastructure spending by the federal government.

During his run for president in 2016, Trump supported investing $1 trillion in infrastructure, but that plan did not materialize during his years in office. He has not made a similar pledge ahead of this year’s election.

The Trump campaign has criticized the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, saying it cost taxpayers too much money at a time of high inflation.

When asked about Trump’s plan for roads and bridges, a spokesperson pointed to the former president’s efforts to make it easier for projects to move forward.

“President Trump cut the red tape and eliminated regulations to make infrastructure projects more efficient,” Anna Kelly said in a written statement.